In 2006 I went to concert put on Dr. Beat Richner. Richner had dedicated his life to setting up children's hospitals in Cambodia. He was there that fateful day in April 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over the city not to return until the 1990s to continue his work. His concerts were mostly a way to get wealthy tourists to part with their money and the young healthy backpackers to give a pint of blood for his children's hospitals in the capital and Siem Reap, the tourist town that services the Angkor Watt temples.
What really stuck with me during the talk was that he noted that a few years previously his concerts had almost no tourists due to the outbreak of SARS and bird flu starving his hospital and the Cambodian economy of much needed funds. During that time far more Cambodian children would die of preventable illnesses than the numbers of people who died during the previous two round of pandemics.
So what's all this got to do with the latest virus that is going to be the end of mankind as we know it?
Firstly I think the reason why the mortality rate for the latest virus is so high in Mexico is because many people in Mexico don't have the luxury of good nutrition, housing and ready access to health care that we all take for granted and which contributes to our ability to fight disease. While there is as Russell Brown points out be history here, the approach of our local newsmedia has taken in reporting the outbreak might be good tamiflu sales here in New Zealand, but that doesn't necessarily make us any safer. Particularly if the sick people are infecting others in the pharmacies buying their tamiflu or even worse, we end up with a strain resistant to the current anti-viral drugs due to people taking the medication when they don't need it.
More importantly the deaths of all those thousands of people from boring diseases such as malaria, polio and whooping cough go unnoticed in the hysteria. This isn't just a third world thing. New Zealand's immunisation rate is appalling. I'm not sure why our rates are so low especially in comparison to the United States which isn't famous for accessible health care. I do know there is a strident group of parents who choose not to adhere to the vaccination schedule for their kids.
I'm going to come right out and say that I have little tolerance for people who knowingly choose to forgo childhood vaccinations for their children.
I'm sure many regular readers may find this opinion at odds with my general view of parenting decisions (breastfeeding, homeschooling, or indeed having kids in the first place) in that I generally think it's up to individuals to figure out what works best for them and their kids and ignore all the people who are screaming at that they're doing it wrong.
But when it comes to vaccinations I'm not so tolerant.
I understand that many parents might be concerned about immunizations after reading the horror stories about children who developed symptoms of autism around the same time as they were given their childhood vaccinations. Not to mention the stories about children suffered terrible fevers and rashes and sometimes seizures post-jab that undoubtedly do the rounds at coffee groups. These stories will naturally have raised some questions for parents and I can see why this fear may lead some of them choose not to vaccinate their kid.
But if you talk to your grandparent's generation, you might find a different set of horror stories.
That in just a two generations we no longer have to fear death from diseases like measles or polio or whooping cough is a miracle made possible by modern medicine. The thing that irks me about the anti-immunization crowd is that as the number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children increases so does the likelihood that these diseases will become a problem again. Parents who decide that the risks are too great to vaccinate their kids are counting on the rest of the population who are willing to take those risks to decrease the chances that their child will be exposed to these diseases. Moreover their decision to not jab does have real effects on other parents.
Like the parents who take their baby into the doctor's office around the same time as the kid presenting with a case of the measles who came into contact with the disease overseas. It goes without saying that the immune system of baby isn't as well-developed as that of an older child and the repercussions of such an infection could result in death for the infant.
Let us not forgot many millions of parents around simply don't have that choice because they can't afford the jabs in the first place. Because let's face it, the ability of parents to refuse vaccinations really is a first world luxury. We have access to healthcare if and when we need it, good nutrition and proper housing all of which lowers our chances of getting sick and much more importantly being able to get better when we do.
The influence of drug companies not to mention morality campaigners do make it difficult for people to make confident decisions about healthcare. Some vaccines and medications have undoubtedly been pushed on the public for little benefit and great expense while at the same time there are people who are forgoing the benefits of modern medicine due to public scaremongering and in many countries a lack of a cash.
I generally err on the side of 'better living through pharmacology' but I know there will be plenty of readers who will disagree me and I'd love to hear from you. Despite my rather militant ramblings, I'm pretty sure that most people want the same thing, healthy living for all of us.